The soreness in my left hip hampered almost the entire class today, not just a couple of poses. Half moon was harder because I couldn't push my hip out to the side as much as usual. Standing head to feet pose was almost impossible: I couldn't even get my hands to the floor in the first set. Eagle hurt. I couldn't kick out on the left leg in Standing Head to Knee. And so on...
The poses that went as usual were: Tree, Savasana, Wind Relieving, Cobra, Half Tortoise, Camel and Rabbit. And worse than that, the nagging stiffness really bit into my focus. I just wanted to be someplace else, doing something else. When that has happened before, its usually been the heat, the humidity, or my stamina. This was something new. And I can't help but think that if I could get over feeling sorry for myself because my butt hurts, then I'd be able to do something about it -- at least stay within my limits and start slowly improving.
The good news is that I think I've figured out what it is, what precisely caused it, and what I can do about it. I already knew that it was some sort of irritation to the sciatic nerve. It turns out that there are typically two main causes for this.
The first is a problem with the vertebrae. This one is probably out: I don't have any lower back pain at all, and it doesn't shoot down into my leg. And I have no other reason to think I have back problems.
The second cause is a tightness in a muscle in the butt called the piriformus. When this muscle gets too tight, it can put pressure on the sciatic nerve and cause inflammation. Even better, I read how the tightening happens. In a forward bend, if you arch your back forward, instead of hinging from the hips and keeping the back straight, you will then also tend to push the hips backward. These two things (which we are warned against) will tend to tighten the piriformus, and that is the culprit here.
As the challenge has progressed, my hamstrings got tighter and tighter. Since I was used to a certain depth in the forward bends, I can see now that I got lazy about my form to maintain the depth. In the first forward bend, seperate leg stetching, and the last forward bends, I have been doing exactly the kind of arching of the back, and pushing the hips backward, that leads to this problem.
Fortunately, I don't have anywhere near the kind of pain that I have read about with other victims. And I have now, I hope, learned my lesson in time to prevent it from becoming worse. The first key is to be even more mindful about perfect form in the forward bends, and not to push anything into the danger zone.
Also, there are some supplemental exercises I've read about for stretching the piriformus and dealing with sciatic pain. These include a variant on wind relieving, pigeon pose, bridge, locust!!!, and from wind relieving straightening the bent leg to vertical (or until the pain/stretch starts).
I talked to Amy about this after class. She raised an interesting point. Rest might work, but often it doesn't work that well. The trouble with rest, though, is that it can relieve the symptoms without doing anything about the problem itself. This approach can simply lead to inactivity, and ultimately can make people worse off. But, if I can cure this through yoga, then it will really be cured (both cause and symptom), and I will be better off as a result. So, while I've been afraid that this will slow me down, I think now that it might just slow me down in ways that need slowing, and won't make me have to stop altogether.